What ashes? The Ashes is a little trophy that the England and Australia cricket teams compete for every couple of years. England, having won the trophy back in 2005 (2-1, with two matches drawn), have just been totally slaughtered in the return competition in Australia, losing 5-0.
The rematch in Australia had been billed as a great contest between two great teams. Unfortunately, England's fell short in every area of their game, while Australia just played awesome cricket. But the bottom line was - having lost in 2005, Australia were passionate and hungry for victory, and it showed in how they prepared and how they played.
This led me to ponder - what if these two teams represented two kinds of churches: England, the cold and flabby church, defeated, representing what we need to avoid; Australia, the passionate and victorious church, representing what we need to be?
I hope the analogy won't be lost on any non-English readers. For a brief explanation of cricket, try reading this; and for an explanation of what the Ashes are, try this. Here goes...
Coming out of the cold - avoiding the mistakes of England
Living in the past. During the 2005 series, England were focused, passionate and desperate and they won narrowly. This led to great celebrations on the streets of London, plaudits from the Prime Minister and an award from the Queen. But then all the passion and fire seemed to evaporate. To their cost England found that the historical term "Ashes winners" meant nothing when faced with a new battle.
Victory is great - we should rejoice over every soul saved, every taste of glory in our worship meetings, over every outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but we must not rest in the victory. Rather, we give thanks, refocus and move on, however hard it is. Even past revivals cannot help us now. We move on - more victory, more souls, even greater outpourings - please, Lord.
Lack of preparation. Many of the players simply weren't ready and their play showed it. Are we ready? "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim 2v15).
Too many injuries. Many players were carrying injuries - as with the church today.
So many of God's people are battle-weary, carrying wounds of the past that hold them back from their full potential, and so many stay in that state because church simply makes them comfortable. Of course every church should have a "hospital wing", but one that heals by the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit so that God's people are truly free. We are His army. There is a war on - and the church needs godly leadership (the ministries of the ascended Christ) to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, a people strong in the Lord and mighty in battle.
Relying on a couple of star players. The England team had some good players, but if they didn't perform, that was that!
Of course it is right to look up to the great men in the church today, but you can be God's instrument for transformation. Your prayers can change your nation, your godly lifestyle can convict your work colleagues and your neighbours, your worship can release a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Don't wait for someone else to do it - you are mighty in God's hand.
Lack of passion. The team talked of having passion but their play seemed indifferent. We need the fire back - passion for God and His glory, and compassion for the lost.
Lean and mean - learning from the Australians' fire
Australia were angry. They were totally horrified that they had lost the Ashes.
We need to be filled with holy indignation at the activity of the enemy in our lives, families, the church and the world - and let that holy indignation stir us to bold intercession. The devil is no mere inconvenience that we have to put up with in the Christian life, he is "that serpent of old, called the devil and satan, who deceives the whole world" (Rev 12v9) - our enemy.
Australia were united. A few months before the Ashes series started, the team went on a much maligned "boot camp" to build their team. They learned to survive and to support each other in the battle.
True unity is vital and it is where the Lord commands His blessing (Psalm 133). We need time together in quality fellowship, sharing our lives, praying for each other - so we stand as one man.
Australia were hungry, passionate and desperate. From the very first day it was on their faces, and it was seen in their play. They fought and fought and were determined to win.
We need to be desperate enough to cry out to God, hungry enough to refuse to let Him go until He blesses us, and passionate enough to seek Him with the whole heart.
Australia took care of their whole game. Some teams are good at batting, others at bowling, others at fielding, but Australia were on top in every area.
Some churches love to worship, or hear sound teaching, or reach out, or pray. But surely we should seek excellence in every aspect of church life. I want the Church of Jesus Christ to worship with the joy and extravagance of the redeemed, the intimacy of the child of God, and the reverence of those coming before the Lord of the whole earth. I want preaching with a fire that wakes the dead and transforms the saints. I want us to be saturated with the presence of God. I want us to take evangelism seriously - not as an optional extra. I want the prayer meetings to be full. Every area!
Australia were uncompromising. They didn't just win the series 3-2 but 5-0. After 3 matches up with 2 to play, victory was assured, but they still fought.
Are we willing to rest on our laurels after a couple of victories? We must become uncompromising - to see heaven full, streets, communities, towns, cities and nations completely transformed. Praise God for every victory, and for every individual person saved, but we need more, and more, and more.
I am just so challenged to become more passionate than the Australian cricket team (after all what is cricket compared to the glory of God's kingdom being extended?); I want to be more focused, more ruthless, and more desperate to see the glory of God breaking forth and victory against the enemy.
It is not easy, but what alternative to we have? The world needs a church on fire. Stir us, Lord!!